My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Divine Mercy, Suffering, and Trust...according to Fulton Sheen

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the Infinite Mercy of God. Fulton Sheen defines mercy from a human perspective:
A person is merciful when he or she feels the sorrow and misery of another as if it were his own.  Disliking misery and unhappiness, the merciful man seeks to dispel the misery of his neighbor just as much as he would if the misery were his own.   That is why, whenever mercy is confronted not only with pain, but with sin and wrongdoing, it becomes forgiveness that not merely pardons, but even rebuilds into justice, repentance, and love.[1]

[1] The Electronic Christian: 105 Readings from Fulton J. Sheen, (New York: Macmillan, 1979), 35.
That, taken to a higher--indeed, to an infinite--level, is the summary of what Our Blessed Lord did for us, and of why we celebrate His Divine Mercy today. He took upon Himself our sorrow and misery. First, by becoming Man, in order to share fully in man's sufferings. He did not take upon Himself an impassible body that could not suffer; rather, He took upon Himself a body like ours: weak, passible, subject to hunger and thirst. Sheen points this out in Life of Christ:
[The] consequences of sin were all His as "the Son of Man." Hence the prayer to let the chalice pass; His endurance of hunger and thirst; His agony and bloody sweat; perhaps even His seeming older than He actually was; His condescension to wash the feet of His disciples; . . . above all, His endurance of worry, anxiety, fear, pain, mental anguish, fever, hunger, thirst, and agony during the hours of His Passion--all these things were to inspire men to imitate "the Son of Man." Nothing that was human was foreign to Him.
Our Lord did not want to leave us alone in our sufferings; He did not want us to be able to shake our fist at Him and say "Does God know what it is to suffer?" (paraphrased from Sheen); He took upon Himself our sufferings so that He could share them with us, so that He could be an example for us of how to accept suffering, and so that when we are faced with suffering, we could unite ourselves to Someone Who has suffered like us, Who is like us in all things but sin, and yet Whose sufferings had infinite value because He is God, and thus, Someone Who will give our sufferings value if we but unite them with His.

But He did not come just to apply His mercy to our physical sufferings and to the consequences of sin; He came to apply His mercy to our sins, and thus He took upon Himself our sins. That is what caused the Agony in the Garden. As Sheen points out, His Agony was not primarily about the prospect of physical pain and death. Our Lord was in agony, Our Lord sweated blood, because He was taking our sins, in all their horror and ugliness, upon Himself.

Ultimately, Our Lord practiced mercy by taking upon Himself not only our sins, not only the consequences of our sins, but also the penalty we should have paid for sin: death. As Sheen points out throughout Life of Christ, "Our Lord did not come into this world to live. He came into it to die." The height of Divine Love and Mercy is found at the moment Our Lord breathed His last: "There was a rupture of a heart in a rapture of love; the Son of Man bowed His Head and willed to die." That is the height of Divine Mercy: Our Lord came to suffer and die for our sins because He is infinitely merciful.

What should be our response to this mercy? Trust. The words below the Divine Mercy icon spell this out: "Jesus, I trust in You."

Trust is hard...I stink at it even on a human level, in trusting people when they promise to help me do XYZ or say they want to do XYZ with me...even when they give me a compliment. My instinctive response (and maybe this is because I've had plenty of untrustworthy people, including relatives, in my life) is: "Yeah, right." And then, on that Divine level, when I should trust completely and totally because God is infinitely trustworthy, my response is the same. I freak out at the prospect of suffering, I don't trust, I don't accept the suffering. Instead, I complain about it, I get all freaked out and tense and stressed.

If I trusted...if I could let go and say "Jesus, I trust in You," if I could trust blindly in the infinite Mercy of Christ, then, for one thing, I wouldn't get so freaked out and stressed. Maybe offering and trusting doesn't lessen the pain, but...if I trust Him, if I trust that He knows what He is doing, then I can offer the suffering, which can lessen it in a sense because then I'll unite it to His suffering on the Cross, so that He can transform it.

"Suffering love alone can bring us to our senses and the real meaning of life"--Fulton Sheen

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